Safe Routes to School Success in Moscow, ID

Moscow, Idaho is a community of 25,000, located eight miles from Washington State with a bike path that connects the University of Idaho in Moscow to the University of Washington. Initially, active transportation efforts were focused more on enjoyment of the outdoors and connection with schools, with little attention paid to the safety component. This started to change roughly 10 years ago when the University of Idaho partnered with the City of Moscow on the area’s Safe Routes to School initiatives – the city took on engineering with the University covering the rest of the E’s. 

When the movement started, there were no sidewalks to four of the local schools; now everything is completely accessible by sidewalk. One of the greatest outcomes of the movement is how people have bought in at all levels, including city government. Engineering for safe and active transportation is now considered the norm. One example of this can be seen in the planning process to open a major street in town with a bridge connector. As part of the planning process, a conversation around traffic calming and safety took place with a diverse group coming to the table to talk. This wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, but now active transportation is so ensconced in the mindset of the city that even the words being used have changed as they think about different users now. Multi-modal means more now than ever before.

There is always more to do, but Moscow is proud of the strides they have made since the inception of their Safe Routes to School program. Now they can think about doing things they couldn’t dream of before because they were so concerned with a lack of sidewalks. Next up, citywide bike education for all 4th graders – sustainable education is key to moving Moscow’s Safe Routes to School plan forward!

Looking ahead, a lack of dedicated funding is probably the biggest obstacle for them to overcome, specifically when thinking about the need for dedicated personnel to serve as local Safe Routes to School leaders. They believe a lot of their success is due to hiring a local coordinator, which provided stability and capacity building. Another challenge is shifting mindsets at schools so that they are concerned with all modes of transportation and not just buses.

Over the years more than a few memorable stories have emerged, but one in particular stands out. They get a lot of snow in Moscow, so they have been promoting walking anytime with a Polar Walk the first week in February the past 10 years. Part of the effort included promotional posters with a polar bear on a piece of an iceberg. Without meaning to, they linked their active travel walking campaign with climate change. The best part was how the junior high students adopted a polar bear for the event and raised money, even getting the climate club on board too. This is a perfect example of the natural link Safe Routes to School can play not just to physical activity, but to a healthier environment and more!

A large part of their success is due to the nature of a university community. Because of their transportation research station, NIATT, they are able to work closely with transportation engineering students. One local junior high with a lot of hazard points had the opportunity to work with engineering professors and university students on the ground. Together, they developed a plan to make the school safer for active travel. It was adopted and designed, the students had an incredible experience and the junior high is much safer. A win for all involved! They have successfully integrated resources and talent from the university level in many different ways – internships and special projects, practicum, marketing materials from design students, interactive maps and psychologists for student safety. All the education majors learn about SRTS and teach it as part of their student teaching. Even art students are included; a public piece as part of their requirements included artistic impressions of active travel. There is no end to the ways the university has partnered with the City of Moscow on active travel, and the benefits to both sides have been vast. There is a synergy that exists in Moscow now that wasn’t there before with more people dedicating resources, time and thought to active travel.